Oklahoma ex-councilman arrested for witness intimidation in theft case

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 11, 2015 5:11 PM

By Heide Brandes

OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - A former Oklahoma town trustee accused of using inmates to steal copper from the city's tornado warning sirens was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of trying to intimidate witnesses from testifying against him in the case, police said.

James Smith 66, a former town trustee for Luther, was arrested in June for hiring inmates to steal copper from the tornado sirens, leaving a twister-prone area without a working warning system, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel said.

He paid the inmates $40 each and sold the scrap for $157.95, Whetsel said. It will cost taxpayers about $31,000 to repair the sirens.

Smith now faces two counts of attempting to prevent witnesses from giving testimony, according to Oklahoma County court records and police. The charges were filed Aug. 7, and Smith was arrested on Tuesday on the new charges.

Smith has not spoken with reporters about the charges against him.

The sheriff said in a June news conference that Smith directed three inmates in a work-release program to remove copper wire and other metals from six tornado sirens during a clean-up in October 2014, while he was still serving as a town trustee.

Smith already faced seven felonies, including six counts of copper theft from a tornado siren, the first time those charges have been filed in Oklahoma, Whetsel said.

The Oklahoma City suburb of Luther, with a population of about 1,400, has been hit numerous times by tornadoes in recent years.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler)